Peruvian Union Leader Fired after Speaking out against Poor Working Conditions

An agro-industrial company in Peru has fired a union leader in an attempt to silence one of the strongest voices against unfair and precarious working conditions, says the Peruvian labor federation CGTP. Join the LabourStart campaign for his reinstatement, and follow the campaign live.

Fidel Polo, legal defense secretary for the Agricola Viru Workers Union and deputy general secretary of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers, was fired on July 12 by his employer, Sociedad Agricola Viru, SA, for “defamation.” Polo Sanchez had appeared on a local television program to discuss a campaign for labor law reform and to speak out against working conditions in the Peruvian agricultural export industry, where workers face some of the worst conditions in the country.

Agricola Viru, where Polo had worked since 2006, is one of the largest companies in Peru’s multibillion-dollar agriculture-for-export sector. The agricultural export industry employs some 300,000 people, more than 70 percent of them women. These workers are continually denied their right to freedom of association through anti-union practices. And the law is not on their side: Law 27360, which governs all workers in the industry and was launched as a “temporary measure” in 2000 to foster the growth of new exports, enables employers to offer lower wages and fewer benefits and protections than those provided to other private-sector workers under Peruvian labor law.

Polo has been fighting to reform Law 27360, despite the huge risk of employer retaliation and resistance to union organizing. He is a union leader not only in his own workplace, but also of the newly formed National Federation of Agricultural Workers (FENTAGRO), the first farm worker labor federation in Peru.

In his May 15 television appearance, Polo talked about the campaign as well as about Agricola Viru’s continued failure to provide safe and decent working conditions in spite of workers’ immense sacrifices. In response, Agricola Viru alleged that Polo had stated falsehoods about the company, including, “[workers] have to buy their own safety equipment” and “[we work in] in inadequate conditions.” Although Agricola Viru may view these statements as “defamation,” the Peruvian Ministry of Labor does not: Agricola Viru has been fined repeatedly over the last three years for failing to provide its workers with proper safety equipment, for denying labor inspections, and for egregious working conditions.

“Fidel Polo’s dismissal is a clear attempt by Agricola Viru to rid itself of one of the leading voices for worker rights, not only at their own bargaining table, but in the entire agro-export sector,” said Pablo Ramos, coordinator of the CGTP’s agriculture department. CGTP is mounting a write-in campaign urging Agricola Viru to rescind Polo’s letter of dismissal and allow him to return to work immediately.

The Solidarity Center works closely with both the CGTP and FENTAGRO, and has provided technical support to programs on organizing, collective bargaining, and public advocacy with agro-export sector unions in Peru.